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Dealing with Grief and Guilt, Part 3

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    Dealing with Grief and Guilt, Part 3

    About eighteen months after Ezri died, I finally got some bereavement counselling. This isn’t because I was on a massively long waiting list or anything. I thought, generally, I was dealing with things pretty well. But, I had a few non-Ezri related issues I wanted to get advice on, and as long as I was getting some counselling, might as well get some help dealing with the grief and guilt I was experiencing.

    I had this very strong feeling of guilt that I should have, could have done a better job caring for Ezri. During those times things were really difficult when Ezri was alive, every night when I went to bed, I told myself “I did my best today. Even though it may not have been all Ezri wished for, it was the best I could do.” This became my nightly mantra, because I knew one day I’d look back with regret.

    And even with that mental safety net in place, I still felt guilty. I wish I’d spent more time with her and less time doing other things. I wish I’d just sat and watched more TV and movies with her. Talked more, and just hung out. The problem was, if I was in the same room as her, she’d ask me to help out with her care, putting me into a carer role. Which I did a lot anyway, but I found it difficult switching from ‘carer’ to ‘friend’ and back again. So I tended to spend time in my room working on projects, helping out when her carer needed a second pair of hands.

    Also, I had a household to run, meds to keep stocked, carers schedules to manage, appointments to manage, paperwork to fill in and bills, bills and more bills. I was very busy and super stressed.

    After Ezri died, I did my best not to blame myself for my shortcomings, but the feeling of guilt was still there. So, I thought counselling might help.

    And it did, more than I could have imagined actually.

    Forgive thyself.

    One of the first things my counsellor asked me, that had a lasting impact, was: ‘what would I say to a friend who felt like they let me down but was actually doing their absolute best?’ I answered, ‘I’d tell them I forgive them and not to worry about it.’ My counsellor replied with, ‘then why can’t you say that to yourself?’

    I had to forgive myself for not living up to the expectations I had put on myself. That simple act of self-forgiveness made a huge difference.

    The Drama Triangle

    Then, a few sessions later, my counsellor introduced me to the Drama Triangle. If you’ve not heard of it, Google it and read more about it. There are some great TED Talks and YouTube videos about it, and a really good book: How to Break free of the Drama Triangle and Victim Consciousness. I cannot recommend this book enough. Everyone on the planet should read it, and it should be mandatory reading in school.

    Anyway, the Drama Triangle says there are three roles that we tend to play in many encounters in life. The Victim, the Accuser and the Hero.

    The Accuser attacks the Victim, either physically, verbally, with emotional blackmail, the blame game, etc. The Victim, meanwhile, plays the injured party, and they are often drama queens. The Hero sweeps in and tries to rescue the Victim from the Accuser, or in other ways solve the Victims problems.

    And, within a single event, a fight, an argument, etc., everyone involved can play multiple roles. A bully might start as playing the accuser, attacking a helpless victim. But then someone steps in and punches the bully, and the bully instantly switches to the victim role, and now the hero is the accuser.

    There are a few strategies for getting out of the drama triangle, and once you understand how it works, you can see it play out in the people around you, and even amongst world leaders and nations. The drama triangle is everywhere.

    What I learned, after reading the book mentioned above (it’s a short book, takes about 2 hours to read), is that I was playing all three roles in my own head.

    I was the Hero, in that I sacrificed everything to care for my best friend. Wasn’t I fantastic for doing that? And I played the Victim, because I sacrificed everything, and am now in financial ruin because of it. “Oh my life is so hard and such a mess because I was the hero when no one else was able to step up!” And I played the Accuser, telling myself I should have done more, I could have been a better friend.

    I was spending my days going around this drama triangle, playing each role in turn, beating myself up more and more for things I couldn’t change.

    What I discovered, and what changed my outlook on guilt, was this understanding:

    Yes, I was a Hero. And a damn fine one, I should be proud of that fact, but I should also learn from it. The problem the Hero has, is that they like to swoop in and solve people’s problems for them. I need to learn to help people, but wait for them to ask for help, and then only assist them to solve their problems, don’t try and solve the problems for them. I am a natural hero, and I enjoy fixing things for people, but it’s really not healthy for me, and not helpful for them if I do everything. Not in the long run. So, I’m going to be the hero less in life, and just help when asked. Also, learning to say no has been a new experience for me these past two years.

    I also need to stop playing the Victim, the Drama Queen, and realise that actually, not having all that clutter and stuff in my life is quite refreshing. I was thinking just the other day of all the stuff we used to own. We were living in a large 4 bedroom house. We had 3 sofas at one point, and a garage full, literally full of junk. I’ve also come to learn that I really, REALLY hate moving house. So having less stuff to pack each time I move is actually really nice. Plus, my plan is to one day buy a sailing yacht and live on it. Can’t have too much stuff and live on a boat at the same time. So getting rid of stuff was a good thing, was always on my agenda, and I should embrace it and not moan about it.

    Lastly, I needed to just stop beating myself up about it all. I did the absolute best job I could, and I know that. My counsellor also told me that feeling like I failed and was overwhelmed is a common feeling carers have after their loved one passes. It’s a tough role. A really, really tough thing to do, to give up everything and look after someone full-time, run a household, manage a life, etc. And we should all cut ourselves a bit of slack.

    So, with all of that in mind and absorbed into my psyche, I found that I could cope with life a lot better. Yes, I still have periods of time where I feel sad and miss my best friend. Occasionally curling up on the sofa and crying my eyes out. Very much so. But those feelings are no longer accompanied with guilt and self-loathing. I no longer beat myself up for things I couldn’t have done better and can no longer change.

    I also still think of Ezri every single day. But I don’t feel anxious about thinking of her, or not thinking of her. There’s a really good TED Talk about “moving forward vs moving on” with life after a loved one dies. We are never going to move on from that person, but rather, we are going to move forward with the memory of that person in our life. That also helped me stress less about forgetting Ezri. It’s just not going to happen.

    The world is filled with love songs, and books, and movies and stories about falling in love. But we aren’t really prepared to deal with grief that is a by-product of being in love. Yes, I did realise about 2 months after Ezri passed that I loved her a lot more than I realised, and in different ways than either of us fully appreciated. Grief taught me that when we love deeply, we hurt equally as deeply when that person is no longer in our lives. I’ve learned not to hate the grief I feel, but rather to realise it is a part of loving, a part of life.
    Hanging in there, one day at a time.

    Hello Pen,

    It’s good to hear from you again and having read your well versed post it would appear you are moving forward with your plan. I do hope you manage to sail away soon. I followed you and Ezri throughout your journey with MND and I believe you did your best but for someone like you that was never good enough. It is great that the counselling has helped you come to terms with this.

    Let me know when you publish that book.
    Barry x
    I’m going to do this even if it kills me!


      Good to hear from you, I’ve often wondered how you are.


        I’ve wondered how you were getting on Pen. You are very generous to share about what you’ve learned, and so well written. Thanks, things to think about. I hope that your dream of living on a yacht comes to fruition before very long. It was nice to hear from you, love Lynne x
        ALS diagnosed November 2017, limb onset. For the 4 yrs previously I was losing my balance.

        I'm staying positive and taking each day as it comes.


          Thank you for the feedback. I just hope my writing helps in some way. At least then there is some benefit from having gone through all of this.

          I haven't started on the book yet covering Ezri's story with MND. Everything is still a bit too fresh to go back and dig into those memories and feelings much. But I have gathered all my notes and records together so I can one day write about it.

          My attention at the moment is on a new book called The Ghost Machine. About a scientist who builds a machine that can generate ghost sightings on demand.

          xx Pen
          Hanging in there, one day at a time.